(1st Add: Includes comments from House Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.)
(CNSNews.com) - A bipartisan Ethics Committee on Wednesday admonished House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-Texas) for the second time in a week for creating an appearance of favoritism after he "mingled" with executives of Westar Energy at a golf club after they gave $25,000 to a fundraising organization associated with DeLay, prompting calls for his resignation.
The committee found that neither DeLay nor anyone acting on his behalf had improperly solicited contributions from Westar Energy Inc.
Last week, DeLay was admonished for attempting to persuade Michigan Republican Rep. Nick Smith to change his vote on legislation in exchange for endorsing Smith's son in a Congressional primary, according to The New York Times.
Republicans lined up to defend the majority leader.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said he was "profoundly disappointed" in the committee's finding and described DeLay as someone who "fights hard for what he believes, but he has never put personal interests ahead of the best interests of the country."
"I am troubled by the intimidation tactics of outside groups and organizations who have tried to influence the decision of those upstanding members of the Ethics Committee," Hastert added.
DeLay's lawyer, former Republican Congressman Ed Bethune said DeLay has not done anything different than his colleagues, but simply that he is "under a microscope."
The committee announced Wednesday evening that it had admonished DeLay on two counts of an ethics complaint filed against him by Rep. Chris Bell, a lame-duck Texas Democrat who lost his re-election bid after Texas legislators passed a redistricting plan engineered by the No. 2 House Republican.
Republican Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia also defended DeLay against the Democrats. "They choose to practice the politics of personal destruction while we're trying to work for the safety and security of Americans," he told CNN in a telephone interview.
The committee also unanimously found that DeLay's office improperly contacted the Federal Aviation Administration in May 2003 to track a plane carrying Texas Democratic legislators, who had fled the state to thwart the Republican plan to redraw the state's congressional district map.
Democrats like House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California questioned DeLay's leadership ability and called for his ouster.
Pelosi of California said DeLay's Republican colleagues should decide whether "they want an ethically unfit person to be their majority leader or do they want to remove the ethical cloud that hangs over the Capitol?" the Associated Press reports.
"The ethical cloud that has been hanging over the Capitol has burst," said Pelosi at a news briefing. "Mr. DeLay has proven himself to be ethically unfit to lead the party."
Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, said, "This is a test of the integrity of the Republican Party. Tom DeLay has created the most corrupt Congress in recent history and Republican representatives who elected him have to decide if they stand with DeLay or decency."
Judicial Watch, a corruption watchdog group, issued a statement on Thursday calling for DeLay to not only step down from his majority leader position but to "consider retiring to private life."
Melanie Sloane, former federal prosecutor and executive director of Citizens for Responsibility for Ethics in Washington, said DeLay's pattern of corruption will not stop.
In a teleconference call Thursday she considered it "most ridiculous" that DeLay's statement was spent on bashing Congressman Chris Bell, who filed the complaint to the Ethics Committee, instead of taking responsibility for the committee's findings.
Democrat Richard Morrison, who is challenging Tom DeLay in November, has also called for DeLay's resignation.
"Every American knows it's three strikes and you're out of the game. That's the way it works in baseball, and that's the way it should work for Tom DeLay," said Morrison.
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